Jul 25 2022

Graham, Senators' Legislation Addresses Pilot Shortage

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) will today introduce the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act to address airline flights cancellations caused by a shortage of pilots. 

The legislation:

  • Raises the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67.
  • Requires that pilots over the age of 65 maintain a first-class medical certification, which must be renewed every six months.
  • Requires air carriers to continue using pilot training and qualification programs approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • Does not change or alter any other qualification – beyond age – to become a commercial airline pilot.

With baby boomers making up half of the airline pilot population, roughly 5,000 fully qualified pilots will be forced to retire within the next two years and the problem will grow even more acute in the following years. The wave of forced pilot retirements continues even as hundreds of flights are being canceled due to a shortage of available pilots and crews.

In 2007, the retirement age for pilots in the United States was raised from 60 to 65 after medical reports concluded age had an ‘insignificant impact’ on performance in the cockpit and there were safety precautions already in place to prevent accidents in case of incapacitation. Nothing in this legislation changes current safety and proficiency procedures for commercial pilots. Pilots will continue to be held to an incredibly high standard to ensure passenger safety.

“There is a severe and growing pilot shortage in the United States. Every air traveler sees and feels the impact when they go to the airport,” said Senator Graham. “One of the biggest causes of air delays is a lack of available crews.  This summer, if your plane actually leaves on time, you feel like you won the lottery.  My legislation extends the mandatory retirement age by two years and will make an immediate and appreciable difference in keeping highly-trained pilots on the job.  The traveling public deserves better than what they are currently getting.  Our bill moves the needle in the right direction to address the critical pilot shortage.”

“Long delays and cancellations have become all too common in airports across the country, including in Iowa. Part of the reason is due to a shortage of pilots, which has unfortunately caused some airlines to cancel service to Iowa regional airports. By allowing healthy pilots to extend their careers if they choose, our proposal is one step we can take to ensure Iowans have better access to commercial air service, quickly alleviate airport congestion and get Americans to their destinations in a timely manner,” Senator Grassley said.

“America is facing a pilot shortage,” said Senator Blackburn. “Current rules block experienced pilots from the workforce based solely on their age. This legislation will raise the maximum age to 67, helping to reduce the worker shortage, lower the number of canceled flights, and increase travel into states like Tennessee.”

“Our nation’s air travel system is struggling with a pilot shortage. The lack of available pilots causes flight cancellations and service reductions. This hurts Nebraska airports that rely on the Essential Air Service to stay connected. Raising the retirement age is a common-sense solution that will help to alleviate this crisis,” said Senator Fischer.

“Airline staffing challenges continue to result in cancellations and delays across the aviation system,” said Senator Thune. “Providing an opportunity for highly qualified, experienced pilots to continue flying past age 65 is a sensible way to alleviate these challenges while training programs recover from the effects of the pandemic.”  

“People in Wyoming rely on small rural airports, and I constantly hear from my constituents about cancellations and delays plaguing rural air service, in large part due to a lack of pilots,” said Senator Lummis. “Raising the mandatory retirement age to allow pilots to fly for an additional two years would mitigate some of these shortages and help restore rural air service, while ensuring we still have qualified and capable pilots manning our aircraft.”

Watch Graham’s press conference on the legislation here.